Some Malformed Musings on Money

Money is some weird shit. Here are some thoughts on money… Our fiat currency has no inherent worth; it is – along with our global financial system – an elaborate myth that binds us, keeps us docile, distracts, motivates, and provides a framework by which we compete and collaborate. The closer you get to the money system’s dark alien heart (finance, and to a lesser extent tech, insurance, and legal fields) the more of it you make, but the more you are defined only by the contours and hard angles of the system. Seeking a high-earning profession and letting lifestyle creep and “workism” define your days strikes me as akin to sitting at the scorers table with a manipulative bent. Maybe you grew up loving basketball, and loved the fluidity of the game. But most of all you loved winning. If you end up controlling the scoreboard, anxiously clutching the buttons, meticulously adding a point here, a personal foul there… yeah, you win. But you aren’t exactly on the court, experiencing camaraderie and motion and creativity (in short, being a human) are you?

The market-based society we find ourselves in exhibits myriad issues and inequities – problems existential and tangible. Not least, the benefits of our market society are not shared equally. But it isn’t all bad. We live in relatively peaceful and prosperous times. The percentage of humanity living in abject poverty is half what is was 20 years ago. Rates of violent crime continue to drop at a micro and macro level. No two trade partners have ever gone to war with one another. Though corporations continue to have pernicious effects on the environment and on human health in some instances, there are encouraging signs that we are gradually beginning to see better corporate citizenship, more corporate philanthropy, and more accountability with respect to the impact corporations have on communities, the environment, and their own employees. Much of this can be traced to better information, and a willingness of consumers to wield their spending decisions toward rewarding nice corporations and punishing naughty ones. Leaders of major U.S. corporations recently made a loud proclamation that shareholder value is no longer the sole and fundamental driver of corporate worth, and that companies should instead serve and invest in all stakeholders, not least of which their own employees. Was this a cynical and opportunistic response to increased skepticism from the all-powerful consumer? Probably. But that’s kinda the point.

I’m not saying that market-based societies are perfect. This blog suggests, though, that we have the tools at our disposal to live well and retire young while helping to steer our market society toward better outcomes for future generations. This humble blog is neither soapbox from which I decry the primacy of money, or a pulpit from which I shout its virtues. This site is dedicated to a more nuanced examination of money’s influence in our lives, and how our relationship to money can impact the world around us.

I am not a badass on the level of Mr. Money Mustache – I can’t teach you how to turn a couch you bought for $3.75 at Goodwill into a motorized vehicle. I am not a coiffed, lacquered money scold like Suze Orman – I can’t in good conscience throw some stale personal finance bromides at you, pretending to light the way to financial freedom. Instead, this site seeks to give you practical advice and better faculties for growing wealth and saving money in ways that are socially and environmentally responsible.

Capitalism is being attacked not because it is inefficient or misgoverned but because it is cynical. And indeed a society based on the assertion that private vices become public benefits cannot endure, no matter how impeccable its logic, no matter how great its benefits — Peter Drucker

So, in keeping with the ramble format, here are three major ways I have come to think about money and capitalism, which I reserve the right to modify or disavow entirely at any point:

  1. Capitalism is flawed, post-human, and has yielded vastly unequal outcomes… but it’s the best we’ve got for now. The legacy of capitalism in America is one of avarice, racism, sexism, and a chewing up and spitting out of people and natural resources. And yet in the grand scheme of things, humans have done worse shit. American is not a true meritocracy now, and never was. My belief is, though, that with a strong system of trust and intellectual property rights already in place, and proper, broadly shared understanding of what remains broken, the system can continue heading in the right direction.
  2. Corporations are not people. But they don’t exist without people, and humanity and “the corporation” can coexist. This is a perspective I’ve developed after over a decade in corporate toil. I entered this world seeking an exit strategy from the first day, with the most quotable moments from ‘Office Space’ playing on repeat in a corner of my brain. Since being in management, I’ve worked with some shitheads, but I’ve worked with more managers who genuinely want to do right by the people they work with, and consider the wellbeing of colleagues above all else. Ultimately corporate life and the acting of corporations are a huge component of our social fabric, for better or for worse. I have seen real, decent humans take this responsibility seriously, and act in decent, human ways as a result.
  3. We all need to find our own truce with the dollar. Your net worth has no bearing on your worth as a human. It doesn’t necessarily correlate with how happy you are either. But understanding your relationship to money, understanding how much of it you need to be happy and realize your full humanity – that matters.

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